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Beacon Lights of History, Volume I by John Lord

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After the erection of temples came the building of palaces for kings,
equally distinguished for vast magnitude and mechanical skill, but
deficient in taste and beauty, showing the infancy of Art. Yet even
these were in imitation of the temples. And as kings became proud and
secular, probably their palaces became grander and larger,--like the
palaces of Nebuchadnezzar and Rameses the Great and the Persian monarchs
at Susa, combining labor, skill, expenditure, dazzling the eye by the
number of columns and statues and vast apartments, yet still deficient
in beauty and grace.

It was not until the Greeks applied their wonderful genius to
architecture that it became the expression of a higher civilization.
And, as among Egyptians, Art in Greece is first seen in temples; for the
earlier Greeks were religious, although they worshipped the deity under
various names, and in the forms which their own hands did make.

The Dorians, who descended from the mountains of northern Greece, eighty
years after the fall of Troy, were the first who added substantially to
the architectural art of Asiatic nations, by giving simplicity and
harmony to their temples. We see great thickness of columns, a fitting
proportion to the capitals, and a beautiful entablature. The horizontal
lines of the architrave and cornice predominate over the vertical lines
of the columns. The temple arises in the severity of geometrical forms.
The Doric column was not entirely a new creation, but was an improvement
on the Egyptian model,--less massive, more elegant, fluted, increasing
gradually towards the base, with a slight convexed swelling downward,
about six diameters in height, superimposed by capitals. "So regular was
the plan of the temple, that if the dimensions of a single column and
the proportion the entablature should bear to it were given to two
individuals acquainted with this style, with directions to compose a
temple, they would produce designs exactly similar in size, arrangement,
and general proportions." And yet while the style of all the Doric
temples is the same, there are hardly two temples alike, being varied by
the different proportions of the _column_, which is the peculiar mark of
Grecian architecture, even as the _arch_ is the feature of Gothic
architecture. The later Doric was less massive than the earlier, but
more rich in sculptured ornaments. The pedestal was from two thirds to a
whole diameter of a column in height, built in three courses, forming as
it were steps to the platform on which the pillar rested. The pillar had
twenty flutes, with a capital of half a diameter, supporting the
entablature. This again, two diameters in height, was divided into
architrave, frieze, and cornice. But the great beauty of the temple was
the portico in front,--a forest of columns, supporting the pediment
above, which had at the base an angle of about fourteen degrees. From
the pediment the beautiful cornice projects with various mouldings,
while at the base and at the apex are sculptured monuments representing
both men and animals. The graceful outline of the columns, and the
variety of light and shade arising from the arrangement of mouldings and
capitals, produced an effect exceedingly beautiful. All the glories of
this order of architecture culminated in the Parthenon,--built of
Pentelic marble, resting on a basement of limestone, surrounded with
forty-eight fluted columns of six feet and two inches diameter at the
base and thirty-four feet in height, the frieze and pediment elaborately
ornamented with reliefs and statues, while within the cella or interior
was the statue of Minerva, forty feet high, built of gold and ivory. The
walls were decorated with the rarest paintings, and the cella itself
contained countless treasures. This unrivalled temple was not so large
as some of the cathedrals of the Middle Ages, but it covered twelve
times the ground of the temple of Solomon, and from the summit of the
Acropolis it shone as a wonder and a glory. The marbles have crumbled
and its ornaments have been removed, but it has formed the model of the
most beautiful buildings of the world, from the Quirinus at Rome to the
Madeleine at Paris, stimulating alike the genius of Michael Angelo and
Christopher Wren, immortal in the ideas it has perpetuated, and
immeasurable in the influence it has exerted. Who has copied the Flavian
amphitheatre except as a convenient form for exhibitors on the stage, or
for the rostrum of an orator? Who has not copied the Parthenon as the
severest in its proportions for public buildings for civic purposes?

The Ionic architecture is only a modification of the Doric,--its columns
more slender and with a greater number of flutes, and capitals more
elaborate, formed with volutes or spiral scrolls, while its pediment,
the triangular facing of the portico, is formed with a less angle from
the base,--the whole being more suggestive of grace than strength.
Vitruvius, the greatest authority among the ancients, says that "the
Greeks, in inventing these two kinds of columns, imitated in the one the
naked simplicity and aspects of a man, and in the other the delicacy
and ornaments of a woman, whose ringlets appear in the volutes of
the capital."

The Corinthian order, which was the most copied by the Romans, was still
more ornamented, with foliated capitals, greater height, and a more
decorated entablature.

But the principles of all these three orders are substantially the
same,--their beauty consisting in the column and horizontal lines, even
as vertical lines marked the Gothic. We see the lintel and not the arch;
huge blocks of stone perfectly squared, and not small stones irregularly
laid; external rather than internal pillars, the cella receiving light
from the open roof above, rather than from windows; a simple outline
uninterrupted,--generally in the form of a parallelogram,--rather than
broken by projections. There is no great variety; but the harmony, the
severity, and beauty of proportion will eternally be admired, and can
never be improved,--a temple of humanity, cheerful, useful, complete,
not aspiring to reach what on earth can never be obtained, with no
gloomy vaults speaking of maceration and grief, no lofty towers and
spires soaring to the sky, no emblems typical of consecrated sentiments
and of immortality beyond the grave, but rich in ornaments drawn from
the living world,--of plants and animals, of man in the perfection of
physical strength, of woman in the unapproachable loveliness of grace
of form. As the world becomes pagan, intellectual, thrifty, we see the
architecture of the Greeks in palaces, banks, halls, theatres, stores,
libraries; when it is emotional, poetic, religious, fervent, aspiring,
we see the restoration of the Gothic in churches, cathedrals,
schools,--for Philosophy and Art did all they could to civilize the
world before Christianity was sent to redeem it and prepare mankind for
the life above. Such was the temple of the Greeks, reappearing in all
the architectures of nations, from the Romans to our own times,--so
perfect that no improvements have subsequently been made, no new
principles discovered which were not known to Vitruvius. What a
creation, to last in its simple beauty for more than two thousand years,
and forever to remain a perfect model of its kind! Ah, that was a
triumph of Art, the praises of which have been sung for more than sixty
generations, and will be sung for hundreds yet to come. But how hidden
and forgotten the great artists who invented all this, showing the
littleness of man and the greatness of Art itself. How true that old
Greek saying, "Life is short, but Art is long."

But the genius displayed in sculpture was equally remarkable, and was
carried to the same perfection. The Greeks did not originate sculpture.
We read of sculptured images from remotest antiquity. Assyria, Egypt,
and India are full of relics. But these are rude, unformed, without
grace, without expression, though often colossal and grand. There are
but few traces of emotion, or passion, or intellectual force. Everything
which has come down from the ancient monarchies is calm, impassive,
imperturbable. Nor is there a severe beauty of form. There is no grace,
no loveliness, that we should desire them. Nature was not severely
studied. We see no aspiration after what is ideal. Sometimes the
sculptures are grotesque, unnatural, and impure. They are emblematic of
strange deities, or are rude monuments of heroes and kings. They are
curious, but they do not inspire us. We do not copy them; we turn away
from them. They do not live, and they are not reproduced. Art could
spare them all, except as illustrations of its progress. They are merely
historical monuments, to show despotism and superstition, and the
degradation of the people.

But this cannot be said of the statues which the Greeks created, or
improved from ancient models. In the sculptures of the Greeks we see the
utmost perfection of the human form, both of man and woman, learned by
the constant study of anatomy and of nude figures of the greatest
beauty. A famous statue represented the combined excellences of perhaps
one hundred different persons. The study of the human figure became a
noble object of ambition, and led to conceptions of ideal grace and
loveliness such as no one human being perhaps ever possessed in all
respects. And not merely grace and beauty were thus represented in
marble or bronze, but dignity, repose, majesty. We see in those figures
which have survived the ravages of time suggestions of motion, rest,
grace, grandeur,--every attitude, every posture, every variety of form.
We see also every passion which moves the human soul,--grief, rage,
agony, shame, joy, peace. But it is the perfection of form which is most
wonderful and striking. Nor did the artists work to please the vulgar
rich, but to realize their own highest conceptions, and to represent
sentiments in which the whole nation shared. They sought to instruct;
they appealed to the highest intelligence. "Some sought to represent
tender beauty, others daring power, and others again heroic grandeur."
Grecian statuary began with ideal representations of deities; then it
produced the figures of gods and goddesses in mortal forms; then the
portrait-statues of distinguished men. This art was later in its
development than architecture, since it was directed to ornamenting what
had already nearly reached perfection. Thus Phidias ornamented the
Parthenon in the time of Pericles, when sculpture was purest and most
ideal In some points of view it declined after Phidias, but in other
respects it continued to improve until it culminated in Lysippus, who
was contemporaneous with Alexander. He is said to have executed fifteen
hundred statues, and to have displayed great energy of execution. He
idealized human beauty, and imitated Nature to the minutest details. He
alone was selected to make the statue of Alexander, which is lost. None
of his works, which were chiefly in bronze, are extant; but it is
supposed that the famous _Hercules_ and the _Torso Belvedere_ are copies
from his works, since his favorite subject was Hercules. We only can
judge of his great merits from his transcendent reputation and the
criticism of classic writers, and also from the works that have come
down to us which are supposed to be imitations of his masterpieces. It
was his scholars who sculptured the _Colossus of Rhodes_, the _Laocooen_,
and the _Dying Gladiator_. After him plastic art rapidly degenerated,
since it appealed to passion, especially under Praxiteles, who was
famous for his undraped Venuses and the expression of sensual charms.
The decline of Art was rapid as men became rich, and Epicurean life was
sought as the highest good. Skill of execution did not decline, but
ideal beauty was lost sight of, until the art itself was prostituted--as
among the Romans--to please perverted tastes or to flatter
senatorial pride.

But our present theme is not the history of decline, but of the
original creations of genius, which have been copied in every succeeding
age, and which probably will never be surpassed, except in some inferior
respects,--in mere mechanical skill. The _Olympian Jove_ of Phidias
lives perhaps in the _Moses_ of Michael Angelo, great as was his
original genius, even as the _Venus_ of Praxiteles may have been
reproduced in Powers's _Greek Slave_. The great masters had innumerable
imitators, not merely in the representation of man but of animals. What
a study did these artists excite, especially in their own age, and how
honorable did they make their noble profession even in degenerate times!
They were the school-masters of thousands and tens of thousands,
perpetuating their ideas to remotest generations. Their instructions
were not lost, and never can be lost in a realm which constitutes one of
the proudest features of our own civilization. It is true that
Christianity does not teach aesthetic culture, but it teaches the duties
which prevent the eclipse of Art. In this way it comes to the rescue of
Art when in danger of being perverted. Grecian Art was consecrated to
Paganism,--but, revived, it may indirectly be made tributary to
Christianity, like music and eloquence. It will not conserve
Christianity, but may be purified by it, even if able to flourish
without it.

I can now only glance at the third development of Grecian Art, as seen
in painting.

It is not probable that such perfection was reached in this art as in
sculpture and architecture. We have no means of forming incontrovertible
opinions. Most of the ancient pictures have perished; and those that
remain, while they show correctness of drawing and brilliant coloring,
do not give us as high conceptions of ideal beauties as do the pictures
of the great masters of modern times. But we have the testimony of the
ancients themselves, who were as enthusiastic in their admiration of
pictures as they were of statues. And since their taste was severe, and
their sensibility as to beauty unquestioned, we have a right to infer
that even painting was carried to considerable perfection among the
Greeks. We read of celebrated schools,--like the modern schools of
Florence, Rome, Bologna, Venice, and Naples. The schools of Sicyon,
Corinth, Athens, and Rhodes were as famous in their day as the modern
schools to which I have alluded.

Painting, being strictly a decoration, did not reach a high degree of
art, like sculpture, until architecture was perfected. But painting is
very ancient. The walls of Babylon, it is asserted by the ancient
historians, were covered with paintings. Many survive amid the ruins of
Egypt and on the chests of mummies; though these are comparatively rude,
without regard to light and shade, like Chinese pictures. Nor do they
represent passions and emotions. They aimed to perpetuate historical
events, not ideas. The first paintings of the Greeks simply marked out
the outline of figures. Next appeared the inner markings, as we see in
ancient vases, on a white ground. The effects of light and shade were
then introduced; and then the application of colors in accordance with
Nature. Cimon of Cleonae, in the eightieth Olympiad, invented the art of
"fore-shortening," and hence was the first painter of perspective.
Polygnotus, a contemporary of Phidias, was nearly as famous for painting
as he was for sculpture. He was the first who painted woman with
brilliant drapery and variegated head-dresses. He gave to the cheek the
blush and to his draperies gracefulness. He is said to have been a great
epic painter, as Phidias was an epic sculptor and Homer an epic poet. He
expressed, like them, ideal beauty. But his pictures had no elaborate
grouping, which is one of the excellences of modern art. His figures
were all in regular lines, like the bas-reliefs on a frieze. He took his
subjects from epic poetry. He is celebrated for his accurate drawing,
and for the charm and grace of his female figures. He also gave great
grandeur to his figures, like Michael Angelo. Contemporary with him was
Dionysius, who was remarkable for expression, and Micon, who was skilled
in painting horses.

With Apollodorus of Athens, who flourished toward the close of the fifth
century before Christ, there was a new development,--that of dramatic
effect. His aim was to deceive the eye of the spectator by the
appearance of reality. He painted men and things as they appeared. He
also improved coloring, invented _chiaroscuro_ (or the art of relief by
a proper distribution of the lights and shadows), and thus obtained what
is called "tone." He prepared the way for Zeuxis, who surpassed him in
the power to give beauty to forms. The _Helen_ of Zeuxis was painted
from five of the most beautiful women of Croton. He aimed at complete
illusion of the senses, as in the instance recorded of his grape
picture. His style was modified by the contemplation of the sculptures
of Phidias, and he taught the true method of grouping. His marked
excellence was in the contrast of light and shade. He did not paint
ideal excellence; he was not sufficiently elevated in his own moral
sentiments to elevate the feelings of others: he painted sensuous beauty
as it appeared in the models which he used. But he was greatly extolled,
and accumulated a great fortune, like Rubens, and lived ostentatiously,
as rich and fortunate men ever have lived who do not possess elevation
of sentiment. His headquarters were not at Athens, but at Ephesus,--a
city which also produced Parrhasins, to whom Zeuxis himself gave the
palm, since he deceived the painter by his curtain, while Zeuxis only
deceived birds by his grapes. Parrhasius established the rule of
proportions, which was followed by succeeding artists. He was a very
luxurious and arrogant man, and fancied he had reached the perfection
of his art.

But if that was ever reached among the ancients it was by Apelles,--the
Titian of that day,--who united the rich coloring of the Ionian school
with the scientific severity of the school of Sicyonia. He alone was
permitted to paint the figure of Alexander, as Lysippus only was allowed
to represent him in bronze. He invented ivory black, and was the first
to cover his pictures with a coating of varnish, to bring out the colors
and preserve them. His distinguishing excellency was grace,--"that
artless balance of motion and repose," says Fuseli, "springing from
character and founded on propriety." Others may have equalled him in
perspective, accuracy, and finish, but he added a refinement of taste
which placed him on the throne which is now given to Raphael. No artists
could complete his unfinished pictures. He courted the severest
criticism, and, like Michael Angelo, had no jealousy of the
fame of other artists; he reposed in the greatness of his own
self-consciousness. He must have made enormous sums of money, since one
of his pictures--a Venus rising out of the sea, painted for a temple in
Cos, and afterwards removed by Augustus to Rome--cost one hundred
talents (equal to about one hundred thousand dollars),--a greater sum,
I apprehend, than was ever paid to a modern artist for a single picture,
certainly in view of the relative value of gold. In this picture female
grace was impersonated.

After Apelles the art declined, although there were distinguished
artists for several centuries. They generally flocked to Rome, where
there was the greatest luxury and extravagance, and they, pandered to
vanity and a vitiated taste. The masterpieces of the old artists brought
enormous sums, as the works of the old masters do now; and they were
brought to Rome by the conquerors, as the masterpieces of Italy and
Spain and Flanders were brought to Paris by Napoleon. So Rome gradually
possessed the best pictures of the world, without stimulating the art or
making new creations; it could appreciate genius, but creative genius
expired with Grecian liberties and glories. Rome multiplied and rewarded
painters, but none of them were famous. Pictures were as common as
statues. Even Varro, a learned writer, had a gallery of seven hundred
portraits. Pictures were placed in all the baths, theatres, temples, and
palaces, as were statues.

We are forced, therefore, to believe that the Greeks carried painting to
the same perfection that they did sculpture, not only from the praises
of critics like Cicero and Pliny, but from the universal enthusiasm
which the painters created and the enormous prices they received.
Whether Polygnotus was equal to Michael Angelo, Zeuxis to Titian, and
Apelles to Raphael, we cannot tell. Their works have perished. What
remains to us, in the mural decorations of Pompeii and the designs on
vases, seem to confirm the criticisms of the ancients. We cannot
conceive how the Greek painters could have equalled the great Italian
masters, since they had fewer colors, and did not make use of oil, but
of gums mixed with the white of eggs, and resin and wax, which mixture
we call "encaustic." Yet it is not the perfection of colors or of
design, or mechanical aids, or exact imitations, or perspective skill,
which constitute the highest excellence of the painter, but his power of
creation,--the power of giving ideal beauty and grandeur and grace,
inspired by the contemplation of eternal ideas, an excellence which
appears in all the masterworks of the Greeks, and such as has not been
surpassed by the moderns.

But Art was not confined to architecture, sculpture, and painting alone.
It equally appears in all the literature of Greece. The Greek poets were
artists, as also the orators and historians, in the highest sense. They
were the creators of _style_ in writing, which we do not see in the
literature of the Jews or other Oriental nations, marvellous and
profound as were their thoughts. The Greeks had the power of putting
things so as to make the greatest impression on the mind. This
especially appears among such poets as Sophocles and Euripides, such
orators as Pericles and Demosthenes, such historians as Xenophon and
Thucydides, such philosophers as Plato and Aristotle. We see in their
finished productions no repetitions, no useless expressions, no
superfluity or redundancy, no careless arrangement, no words even in bad
taste, save in the abusive epithets in which the orators indulged. All
is as harmonious in their literary style as in plastic art; while we
read, unexpected pleasures arise in the mind, based on beauty and
harmony, somewhat similar to the enjoyment of artistic music, or as when
we read Voltaire, Rousseau, or Macaulay. We perceive art in the
arrangement of sentences, in the rhythm, in the symmetry of
construction. We see means adapted to an end. The Latin races are most
marked for artistic writing, especially the French, who seem to be
copyists of Greek and Roman models. We see very little of this artistic
writing among the Germans, who seem to disdain it as much as an English
lawyer or statesman does rhetoric. It is in rhetoric and poetry that Art
most strikingly appears in the writings of the Greeks, and this was
perfected by the Athenian Sophists. But all the Greeks, and after them
the Romans, especially in the time of Cicero, sought the graces and
fascinations of style. Style is an art, and all art is eternal.

It is probable also that Art was manifested to a high degree in the
conversation of the Greeks, as they were brilliant talkers,--like
Brougham, Mackintosh, Madame de Stael, and Macaulay, in our times.

But I may not follow out, as I could wish, this department of
Art,--generally overlooked, certainly not dwelt upon like pictures and
statues. An interesting and captivating writer or speaker is as much an
artist as a sculptor or musician; and unless authors possess art their
works are apt to perish, like those of Varro, the most learned of the
Romans. It is the exquisite art seen in all the writings of Cicero which
makes them classic; it is the style rather than the ideas. The same may
be said of Horace: it is his elegance of style and language which makes
him immortal. It is this singular fascination of language and style
which keeps Hume on the list of standard and classic writers, like
Pascal, Goldsmith, Voltaire, and Fenelon. It is on account of these
excellences that the classical writers of antiquity will never lose
their popularity, and for which they will be imitated, and by which they
have exerted their vast influence.

Art, therefore, in every department, was carried to high excellence by
the Greeks, and they thus became the teachers of all succeeding races
and ages. Artists are great exponents of civilization. They are
generally learned men, appreciated by the cultivated classes, and
usually associating with the rich and proud. The Popes rewarded artists
while they crushed reformers. I never read of an artist who was
persecuted. Men do not turn with disdain or anger in disputing with
them, as they do from great moral teachers; artists provoke no
opposition and stir up no hostile passions. It is the men who propound
agitating ideas and who revolutionize the character of nations, that are
persecuted. Artists create no revolutions, not even of thought.
Savonarola kindled a greater fire in Florence than all the artists whom
the Medici ever patronized. But if the artists cannot wear the crown of
apostles and reformers and sages,--the men who save nations, men like
Socrates, Luther, Bacon, Descartes, Burke,--yet they have fewer evils to
contend with in their progress, and they still leave a mighty impression
behind them, not like that of Moses and Paul, but still an influence;
they kindle the enthusiasm of a class that cannot be kindled by ideas,
and furnish inexhaustible themes of conversation to cultivated people
and make life itself graceful and beautiful, enriching our houses and
adorning our consecrated temples and elevating our better sentiments.
The great artist is himself immortal, even if he contributes very little
to save the world. Art seeks only the perfection of outward form; it is
mundane in its labors; it does not aspire to those beatitudes which
shine beyond the grave. And yet it is a great and invaluable assistance
to those who would communicate great truths, since it puts them in
attractive forms and increases the impression of the truths themselves.
To the orator, the historian, the philosopher, and the poet, a knowledge
of the principles of Art is as important as to the architect, the
sculptor, and the painter; and these principles are learned only by
study and labor, while they cannot be even conceived of by ordinary men.

Thus it would appear that in all departments and in all the developments
of Art the Greeks were the teachers of the modern European nations, as
well of the ancient Romans; and their teachings will be invaluable to
all the nations which are yet to arise, since no great improvement has
been made on the models which have come down to us, and no new
principles have been discovered which were not known to them. In
everything which pertains to Art they were benefactors of the human
race, and gave a great impulse to civilization.


Mueller's De Phidias Vita, Vitruvius, Aristotle. Pliny, Ovid, Martial,
Lucian, and Cicero have made criticisms on ancient Art. The modern
writers are very numerous, especially among the Germans and the French.
From these may be selected Winckelmann's History of Ancient Art;
Mueller's Remains of Ancient Art; Donaldson's Antiquities of Athens; Sir
W. Gill's Pompeiana; Montfancon's Antiquite Expliquee en Figures;
Ancient Marbles of the British Museum, by Taylor Combe; Mayer's
Kunstgechicte; Cleghorn's Ancient and Modern Art; Wilkinson's Topography
of Thebes; Dodwell's Classical Tour; Wilkinson's Ancient Egyptians;
Flaxman's Lectures on Sculpture; Fuseli's Lectures; Sir Joshua
Reynolds's Lectures; also see five articles on Painting, Sculpture, and
Architecture, in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and in Smith's



We know but little of the literature of antiquity until the Greeks
applied to it the principles of art. The Sanskrit language has revealed
the ancient literature of the Hindus, which is chiefly confined to
mystical religious poetry, and which has already been mentioned in the
chapter on "Ancient Religions." There was no history worthy the name in
India. The Egyptians and Babylonians recorded the triumphs of warriors
and domestic events, but those were mere annals without literary value.
It is true that the literary remains of Egypt show a reading and writing
people as early as three thousand years before Christ, and in their
various styles of pen-language reveal a remarkable variety of
departments and topics treated,--books of religion, of theology, of
ethics, of medicine, of astronomy, of magic, of mythic poetry, of
fiction, of personal correspondence, etc. The difficulties of
deciphering them, however, and their many peculiarities and formalisms
of style, render them rather of curious historical and archaeological
than of literary interest. The Chinese annals also extend back to a
remote period, for Confucius wrote history as well as ethics; but
Chinese literature has comparatively little interest for us, as also
that of all Oriental nations, except the Hindu Vedas and the Persian
Zend-Avesta, and a few other poems showing great fertility of the
imagination, with a peculiar tenderness and pathos.

Accordingly, as I wish to show chiefly the triumphs of ancient genius
when directed to literature generally, and especially such as has had a
direct influence upon our modern literature, I confine myself to that of
Greece and Rome. Even our present civilization delights in the
masterpieces of the classical poets, historians, orators, and essayists,
and seeks to rival them. Long before Christianity became a power the
great literary artists of Greece had reached perfection in style and
language, especially in Athens, to which city youths were sent to be
educated, as to a sort of university town where the highest culture was
known. Educated Romans were as familiar with the Greek classics as they
were with those of their own country, and could talk Greek as the modern
cultivated Germans talk French. Without the aid of Greece, Rome could
never have reached the civilization to which she attained.

How rich in poetry was classical antiquity, whether sung in the Greek
or Latin language! In all those qualities which give immortality
classical poetry has never been surpassed, whether in simplicity, in
passion, in fervor, in fidelity to nature, in wit, or in imagination. It
existed from the early times of Greek civilization, and continued to
within a brief period of the fall of the Roman empire. With the rich
accumulation of ages the Romans were familiar. They knew nothing indeed
of the solitary grandeur of the Jewish muse, or the Nature-myths of the
ante-Homeric singers; but they possessed the Iliad and the Odyssey, with
their wonderful truthfulness, their clear portraiture of character,
their absence of all affectation, their serenity and cheerfulness, their
good sense and healthful sentiments, withal so original that the germ of
almost every character which has since figured in epic poetry can be
found in them.

We see in Homer a poet of the first class, holding the same place in
literature that Plato holds in philosophy or Newton in science, and
exercising a mighty influence on all the ages which have succeeded him.
He was born, probably, at Smyrna, an Ionian city; the dates attributed
to him range from the seventh to the twelfth century before Christ.
Herodotus puts him at 850 B.C. For nearly three thousand years his
immortal creations have been the delight and the inspiration of men of
genius; and they are as marvellous to us as they were to the Athenians,
since they are exponents of the learning as well as of the consecrated
sentiments of the heroic ages. We find in them no pomp of words, no
far-fetched thoughts, no theatrical turgidity, no ambitious
speculations, no indefinite longings; but we see the manners and customs
of the primitive nations, the sights and wonders of the external world,
the marvellously interesting traits of human nature as it was and is;
and with these we have lessons of moral wisdom,--all recorded with
singular simplicity yet astonishing artistic skill. We find in the
Homeric narrative accuracy, delicacy, naturalness, with grandeur,
sentiment, and beauty, such as Phidias represented in his statues of
Zeus. No poems have ever been more popular, and none have extorted
greater admiration from critics. Like Shakspeare, Homer is a kind of
Bible to both the learned and unlearned among all peoples and ages,
--one of the prodigies of the world. His poems form the basis of Greek
literature, and are the best understood and the most widely popular of
all Grecian compositions. The unconscious simplicity of the Homeric
narrative, its high moral tone, its vivid pictures, its graphic details,
and its religious spirit create an enthusiasm such as few works of
genius can claim. Moreover it presents a painting of society, with its
simplicity and ferocity, its good and evil passions, its tenderness and
its fierceness, such as no other poem affords. Its influence on the
popular mythology of the Greeks has been already alluded to. If Homer
did not create the Grecian theogony, he gave form and fascination to it.
Nor is it necessary to speak of any other Grecian epic, when the Iliad
and the Odyssey attest the perfection which was attained one hundred and
twenty years before Hesiod was born. Grote thinks that the Iliad and the
Odyssey were produced at some period between 850 B.C. and 776 B.C.

In lyrical poetry the Greeks were no less remarkable; indeed they
attained to what may be called absolute perfection, owing to the
intimate connection between poetry and music, and the wonderful
elasticity and adaptiveness of their language. Who has surpassed Pindar
in artistic skill? His triumphal odes are paeans, in which piety breaks
out in expressions of the deepest awe and the most elevated sentiments
of moral wisdom. They alone of all his writings have descended to us,
but these, made up as they are of odic fragments, songs, dirges, and
panegyrics, show the great excellence to which he attained. He was so
celebrated that he was employed by the different States and princes of
Greece to compose choral songs for special occasions, especially for the
public games. Although a Theban, he was held in the highest estimation
by the Athenians, and was courted by kings and princes. Born in Thebes
522 B.C., he died probably in his eightieth year, being contemporary
with Aeschylus and the battle of Marathon. We possess also fragments of
Sappho, Simonides, Anacreon, and others, enough to show that could the
lyrical poetry of Greece be recovered, we should probably possess the
richest collection that the world has produced.

Greek dramatic poetry was still more varied and remarkable. Even the
great masterpieces of Sophocles and Euripides now extant were regarded
by their contemporaries as inferior to many other Greek tragedies
utterly unknown to us. The great creator of the Greek drama was
Aeschylus, born at Eleusis 525 B.C. It was not till the age of forty-one
that he gained his first prize. Sixteen years afterward, defeated by
Sophocles, he quitted Athens in disgust and went to the court of Hiero,
king of Syracuse. But he was always held, even at Athens, in the highest
honor, and his pieces were frequently reproduced upon the stage. It was
not so much the object of Aeschylus to amuse an audience as to instruct
and elevate it. He combined religious feeling with lofty moral
sentiment, and had unrivalled power over the realm of astonishment and
terror. "At his summons," says Sir Walter Scott, "the mysterious and
tremendous volume of destiny, in which is inscribed the doom of gods
and men, seemed to display its leaves of iron before the appalled
spectators; the more than mortal voices of Deities, Titans, and departed
heroes were heard in awful conference; heaven bowed, and its divinities
descended; earth yawned, and gave up the pale spectres of the dead and
yet more undefined and ghastly forms of those infernal deities who
struck horror into the gods themselves." His imagination dwells in the
loftiest regions of the old mythology of Greece; his tone is always pure
and moral, though stern and harsh; he appeals to the most violent
passions, and is full of the boldest metaphors. In sublimity Aeschylus
has never been surpassed. He was in poetry what Phidias and Michael
Angelo were in art. The critics say that his sublimity of diction is
sometimes carried to an extreme, so that his language becomes inflated.
His characters, like his sentiments, were sublime,--they were gods and
heroes of colossal magnitude. His religious views were Homeric, and he
sought to animate his countrymen to deeds of glory, as it became one of
the generals who fought at Marathon to do. He was an unconscious genius,
and worked like Homer without a knowledge of artistic laws. He was proud
and impatient, and his poetry was religious rather than moral. He wrote
seventy plays, of which only seven are extant; but these are immortal,
among the greatest creations of human genius, like the dramas of
Shakspeare. He died in Sicily, in the sixty-ninth year of his age.

The fame of Sophocles is scarcely less than that of Aeschylus. He was
twenty-seven years of age when he publicly appeared as a poet. He was
born in Colonus, in the suburbs of Athens, 495 B.C., and was the
contemporary of Herodotus, of Pericles, of Pindar, of Phidias, of
Socrates, of Cimon, of Euripides,--the era of great men, the period of
the Peloponnesian War, when everything that was elegant and intellectual
culminated at Athens. Sophocles had every element of character and
person to fascinate the Greeks,--beauty of face, symmetry of form,
skill in gymnastics, calmness and dignity of manner, a cheerful and
amiable temper, a ready wit, a meditative piety, a spontaneity of
genius, an affectionate admiration for talent, and patriotic devotion to
his country. His tragedies, by the universal consent of the best
critics, are the perfection of the Greek drama; and they moreover
maintain that he has no rival, Aeschylus and Shakspeare alone excepted,
in the whole realm of dramatic poetry. It was the peculiarity of
Sophocles to excite emotions of sorrow and compassion. He loved to paint
forlorn heroes. He was human in all his sympathies, perhaps not so
religious as Aeschylus, but as severely ethical; not so sublime, but
more perfect in art. His sufferers are not the victims of an inexorable
destiny, but of their own follies. Nor does he even excite emotion apart
from a moral end. He lived to be ninety years old, and produced the most
beautiful of his tragedies in his eightieth year, the "Oedipus at
Colonus." Sophocles wrote the astonishing number of one hundred and
thirty plays, and carried off the first prize twenty-four times. His
"Antigone" was written when he was forty-five, and when Euripides had
already gained a prize. Only seven of his tragedies have survived, but
these are priceless treasures.

Euripides, the last of the great triumvirate of the Greek tragic poets,
was born at Athens, 485 B.C. He had not the sublimity of Aeschylus, nor
the touching pathos of Sophocles, nor the stern simplicity of either,
but in seductive beauty and successful appeal to passion was superior to
both. In his tragedies the passion of love predominates, but it does not
breathe the purity of sentiment which marked the tragedies of Aeschylus
and Sophocles; it approaches rather to the tone of the modern drama. He
paints the weakness and corruptions of society, and brings his subjects
to the level of common life. He was the pet of the Sophists, and was
pantheistic in his views. He does not attempt to show ideal excellence,
and his characters represent men not as they ought to be, but as they
are, especially in corrupt states of society. Euripides wrote
ninety-five plays, of which eighteen are extant. Whatever objection may
be urged to his dramas on the score of morality, nobody can question
their transcendent art or their great originality.

With the exception of Shakspeare, all succeeding dramatists have copied
the three great Greek tragic poets whom we have just named,--especially
Racine, who took Sophocles for his model,--even as the great epic poets
of all ages have been indebted to Homer.

The Greeks were no less distinguished for comedy than for tragedy. Both
tragedy and comedy sprang from feasts in honor of Bacchus; and as the
jests and frolics were found misplaced when introduced into grave
scenes, a separate province of the drama was formed, and comedy arose.
At first it did not derogate from the religious purposes which were at
the foundation of the Greek drama; it turned upon parodies in which the
adventures of the gods were introduced by way of sport,--as in
describing the appetite of Hercules or the cowardice of Bacchus. The
comic authors entertained spectators by fantastic and gross displays, by
the exhibition of buffoonery and pantomime. But the taste of the
Athenians was too severe to relish such entertainments, and comedy
passed into ridicule of public men and measures and the fashions of the
day. The people loved to see their great men brought down to their own
level. Comedy, however, did not flourish until the morals of society
were degenerated, and ridicule had become the most effective weapon
wherewith to assail prevailing follies. In modern times, comedy reached
its culminating point when society was both the most corrupt and the
most intellectual,--as in France, when Moliere pointed his envenomed
shafts against popular vices. In Greece it flourished in the age of
Socrates and the Sophists, when there was great bitterness in political
parties and an irrepressible desire for novelties. Comedy first made
itself felt as a great power in Cratinus, who espoused the side of Cimon
against Pericles with great bitterness and vehemence.

Many were the comic writers of that age of wickedness and genius, but
all yielded precedence to Aristophanes, of whose writings only his plays
have reached us. Never were libels on persons of authority and influence
uttered with such terrible license. He attacked the gods, the
politicians, the philosophers, and the poets of Athens; even private
citizens did not escape from his shafts, and women were the subjects of
his irony. Socrates was made the butt of his ridicule when most revered,
Cleon in the height of his power, and Euripides when he had gained the
highest prizes. Aristophanes has furnished jests for Rabelais, hints to
Swift, and humor for Moliere. In satire, in derision, in invective, and
bitter scorn he has never been surpassed. No modern capital would
tolerate such unbounded license; yet no plays in their day were ever
more popular, or more fully exposed follies which could not otherwise be
reached. Aristophanes is called the Father of Comedy, and his comedies
are of great historical importance, although his descriptions are
doubtless caricatures. He was patriotic in his intentions, even setting
up as a reformer. His peculiar genius shines out in his "Clouds," the
greatest of his pieces, in which he attacks the Sophists. He wrote
fifty-four plays. He was born 444 B.C., and died 380 B.C.

Thus it would appear that in the three great departments of poetry,--the
epic, the lyric, and the dramatic,--the old Greeks were great masters,
and have been the teachers of all subsequent nations and ages.

The Romans in these departments were not the equals of the Greeks, but
they were very successful copyists, and will bear comparison with modern
nations. If the Romans did not produce a Homer, they can boast of a
Virgil; if they had no Pindar, they furnished a Horace; and in satire
they transcended the Greeks.

The Romans produced no poetry worthy of notice until the Greek language
and literature were introduced among them. It was not till the fall of
Tarentum that we read of a Roman poet. Livius Andronicus, a Greek
slave, 240 B.C., rudely translated the Odyssey into Latin, and was the
author of various plays, all of which have perished, and none of which,
according to Cicero, were worth a second perusal. Still, Andronicus was
the first to substitute the Greek drama for the old lyrical stage
poetry. One year after the first Punic War, he exhibited the first Roman
play. As the creator of the drama he deserves historical notice, though
he has no claim to originality, but, like a schoolmaster as he was,
pedantically labored to imitate the culture of the Greeks. His plays
formed the commencement of Roman translation-literature, and naturalized
the Greek metres in Latium, even though they were curiosities rather
than works of art.

Naevius, 235 B.C., produced a play at Rome, and wrote both epic and
dramatic poetry, but so little has survived that no judgment can be
formed of his merits. He was banished for his invectives against the
aristocracy, who did not relish severity of comedy. Mommsen regards
Naevius as the first of the Romans who deserves to be ranked among the
poets. His language was free from stiffness and affectation, and his
verses had a graceful flow. In metres he closely adhered to Andronicus.

Plautus was perhaps the first great dramatic poet whom the Romans
produced, and his comedies are still admired by critics as both original
and fresh. He was born in Umbria, 257 B.C., and was contemporaneous
with Publius and Cneius Scipio. He died 184 B.C. The first development
of Roman genius in the field of poetry seems to have been the dramatic,
in which still the Greek authors were copied. Plautus might be mistaken
for a Greek, were it not for the painting of Roman manners, for his garb
is essentially Greek. Plautus wrote one hundred and thirty plays, not
always for the stage, but for the reading public. He lived about the
time of the second Punic War, before the theatre was fairly established
at Rome. His characters, although founded on Greek models, act, speak,
and joke like Romans. He enjoyed great popularity down to the latest
times of the empire, while the purity of his language, as well as the
felicity of his wit, was celebrated by the ancient critics. Cicero
places his wit on a par with the old Attic comedy; while Jerome spent
much time in reading his comedies, even though they afterward cost him
tears of bitter regret. Modern dramatists owe much to Plautus. Moliere
has imitated him in his "Avare," and Shakspeare in his "Comedy of
Errors." Lessing pronounces the "Captivi" to be the finest comedy ever
brought upon the stage; he translated this play into German, and it has
also been admirably translated into English. The great excellence of
Plautus was the masterly handling of language, and the adjusting the
parts for dramatic effect. His humor, broad and fresh, produced
irresistible comic effects. No one ever surpassed him in his vocabulary
of nicknames and his happy jokes. Hence he maintained his popularity in
spite of his vulgarity.

Terence shares with Plautus the throne of Roman comedy. He was a
Carthaginian slave, born 185 B.C., but was educated by a wealthy Roman
into whose hands he fell, and ever after associated with the best
society and travelled extensively in Greece. He was greatly inferior to
Plautus in originality, and has not exerted a like lasting influence;
but he wrote comedies characterized by great purity of diction, which
have been translated into all modern languages. Terence, whom Mommsen
regards as the most polished, elegant, and chaste of all the poets of
the newer comedy, closely copied the Greek Menander. Unlike Plautus, he
drew his characters from good society, and his comedies, if not moral,
were decent. Plautus wrote for the multitude, Terence for the few;
Plautus delighted in noisy dialogue and slang expressions; Terence
confined himself to quiet conversation and elegant expressions, for
which he was admired by Cicero and Quintilian and other great critics.
He aspired to the approval of the cultivated, rather than the applause
of the vulgar; and it is a remarkable fact that his comedies supplanted
the more original productions of Plautus in the later years of the
republic, showing that the literature of the aristocracy was more
prized than that of the people, even in a degenerate age.

The "Thyestes" of Varius was regarded in its day as equal to Greek
tragedies. Ennius composed tragedies in a vigorous style, and was
regarded by the Romans as the parent of their literature, although most
of his works have perished. Virgil borrowed many of his thoughts, and
was regarded as the prince of Roman song in the time of Cicero. The
Latin language is greatly indebted to him. Pacuvius imitated Aeschylus
in the loftiness of his style. From the times before the Augustan age no
tragic production has reached us, although Quintilian speaks highly of
Accius, especially of the vigor of his style; but he merely imitated the
Greeks. The only tragedy of the Romans which has reached us was written
by Seneca the philosopher.

In epic poetry the Romans accomplished more, though even here they are
still inferior to the Greeks. The Aeneid of Virgil has certainly
survived the material glories of Rome. It may not have come up to the
exalted ideal of its author; it may be defaced by political flatteries;
it may not have the force and originality of the Iliad,--but it is
superior in art, and delineates the passion of love with more delicacy
than can be found in any Greek author. In soundness of judgment, in
tenderness of feeling, in chastened fancy, in picturesque description,
in delineation of character, in matchless beauty of diction, and in
splendor of versification, it has never been surpassed by any poem in
any language, and proudly takes its place among the imperishable works
of genius. Henry Thompson, in his "History of Roman Literature," says:--

"Availing himself of the pride and superstition of the Roman people, the
poet traces the origin and establishment of the 'Eternal City' to those
heroes and actions which had enough in them of what was human and
ordinary to excite the sympathies of his countrymen, intermingled with
persons and circumstances of an extraordinary and superhuman character
to awaken their admiration and awe. No subject could have been more
happily chosen. It has been admired also for its perfect unity of
action; for while the episodes command the richest variety of
description, they are always subordinate to the main object of the poem,
which is to impress the divine authority under which Aeneas first
settled in Italy. The wrath of Juno, upon which the whole fate of Aeneas
seems to turn, is at once that of a woman and a goddess; the passion of
Dido and her general character bring us nearer to the present
world,--but the poet is continually introducing higher and more
effectual influences, until, by the intervention of gods and men, the
Trojan name is to be continued in the Roman, and thus heaven and earth
are appeased."

Probably no one work of man has had such a wide and profound influence
as this poem of Virgil,--a textbook in all schools since the revival of
learning, the model of the Carlovingian poets, the guide of Dante, the
oracle of Tasso. Virgil was born seventy years before Christ, and was
seven years older than Augustus. His parentage was humble, but his
facilities of education were great. He was a most fortunate man,
enjoying the friendship of Augustus and Maecenas, fame in his own
lifetime, leisure to prosecute his studies, and ample rewards for his
labors. He died at Brundusium at the age of fifty.

In lyrical poetry, the Romans can boast of one of the greatest masters
of any age or nation. The Odes of Horace have never been transcended,
and will probably remain through all ages the delight of scholars. They
may not have the deep religious sentiment and unity of imagination and
passion which belong to the Greek lyrical poets, but as works of art, of
exquisite felicity of expression, of agreeable images, they are
unrivalled. Even in the time of Juvenal his poems were the common
school-books of Roman youth. Horace, born 65 B.C., like Virgil was also
a favored man, enjoying the friendship of the great, and possessing
ease, fame, and fortune; but his longings for retirement and his disgust
at the frivolities around him are a sad commentary on satisfied desires.
His Odes composed but a small part of his writings. His Epistles are the
most perfect of his productions, and rank with the "Georgics" of Virgil
and the "Satires" of Juvenal as the most perfect form of Roman verse.
His satires are also admirable, but without the fierce vehemence and
lofty indignation that characterized those of Juvenal. It is the folly
rather than the wickedness of vice which Horace describes with such
playful skill and such keenness of observation. He was the first to
mould the Latin tongue to the Greek lyric measures. Quintilian's
criticism is indorsed by all scholars,--_Lyricorum Horatius fere solus
legi dignus, in verbis felicissime audax_. No poetry was ever more
severely elaborated than that of Horace, and the melody of the language
imparts to it a peculiar fascination. If inferior to Pindar in passion
and loftiness, it glows with a more genial humanity and with purer wit.
It cannot be enjoyed fully except by those versed in the experiences of
life, who perceive in it a calm wisdom, a penetrating sagacity, a sober
enthusiasm, and a refined taste, which are unusual even among the
masters of human thought.

It is the fashion to depreciate the original merits of this poet, as
well as those of Virgil, Plautus, and Terence, because they derived so
much assistance from the Greeks. But the Greeks also borrowed from one
another. Pure originality is impossible. It is the mission of art to add
to its stores, without hoping to monopolize the whole realm. Even
Shakspeare, the most original of modern poets, was vastly indebted to
those who went before him, and he has not escaped the hypercriticism of
minute observers.

In this mention of lyrical poetry I have not spoken of Catullus,
unrivalled in tender lyric, the greatest poet before the Augustan era.
He was born 87 B.C., and enjoyed the friendship of the most celebrated
characters. One hundred and sixteen of his poems have come down to us,
most of which are short, and many of them defiled by great coarseness
and sensuality. Critics say, however, that whatever he touched he
adorned; that his vigorous simplicity, pungent wit, startling invective,
and felicity of expression make him one of the great poets of the
Latin language.

In didactic poetry Lucretius was pre-eminent, and is regarded by
Schlegel as the first of Roman poets in native genius. He was born 95
B.C., and died at the age of forty-two by his own hand. His principal
poem "De Rerum Natura" is a delineation of the Epicurean philosophy, and
treats of all the great subjects of thought with which his age was
conversant. Somewhat resembling Pope's "Essay on Man" in style and
subject, it is immeasurably superior in poetical genius. It is a
lengthened disquisition, in seven thousand four hundred lines, upon the
great phenomena of the outward world. As a painter and worshipper of
Nature, Lucretius was superior to all the poets of antiquity. His skill
in presenting abstruse speculations is marvellous, and his outbursts of
poetic genius are matchless in power and beauty. Into all subjects he
casts a fearless eye, and writes with sustained enthusiasm. But he was
not fully appreciated by his countrymen, although no other poet has so
fully brought out the power of the Latin language. Professor Ramsay,
while alluding to the melancholy tenderness of Tibullus, the exquisite
ingenuity of Ovid, the inimitable felicity and taste of Horace, the
gentleness and splendor of Virgil, and the vehement declamation of
Juvenal, thinks that had the verse of Lucretius perished we should never
have known that the Latin could give utterance to the grandest
conceptions, with all that self-sustained majesty and harmonious swell
in which the Grecian muse rolls forth her loftiest outpourings. The
eulogium of Ovid is--

"Carmina sublimis tunc sunt peritura Lucreti,
Exitio terras quum dabit una dies."

Elegiac poetry has an honorable place in Roman literature. To this
school belongs Ovid, born 43 B.C., died 18 A.D., whose "Tristia," a
doleful description of the evils of exile, were much admired by the
Romans. His most famous work was his "Metamorphoses," mythologic legends
involving transformations,--a most poetical and imaginative production.
He, with that self-conscious genius common to poets, declares that his
poem would be proof against sword, fire, thunder, and time,--a
prediction, says Bayle, which has not yet proved false. Niebuhr thinks
that Ovid next to Catullus was the most poetical of his countrymen.
Milton thinks he might have surpassed Virgil, had he attempted epic
poetry. He was nearest to the romantic school of all the classical
authors; and Chaucer, Ariosto, and Spenser owe to him great obligations.
Like Pope, his verses flowed spontaneously. His "Tristia" were more
highly praised than his "Amores" or his "Metamorphoses," a fact which
shows that contemporaries are not always the best judges of real merit.
His poems, great as was their genius, are deficient in the severe taste
which marked the Greeks, and are immoral in their tendency. He had great
advantages, but was banished by Augustus for his description of
licentious love. Nor did he support exile with dignity; he languished
like Cicero when doomed to a similar fate, and died of a broken heart.
But few intellectual men have ever been able to live at a distance from
the scene of their glories, and without the stimulus of high society.
Chrysostom is one of the few exceptions. Ovid, as an immoral writer, was
justly punished.

Tibullus, also a famous elegiac poet, was born the same year as Ovid,
and was the friend of the poet Horace. He lived in retirement, and was
both gentle and amiable. At his beautiful country-seat he soothed his
soul with the charms of literature and the simple pleasures of the
country. Niebuhr pronounces the elegies of Tibullus to be doleful, but
Merivale thinks that "the tone of tender melancholy in which he sung his
unprosperous loves had a deeper and purer source than the caprices of
three inconstant paramours.... His spirit is eminently religious, though
it bids him fold his hands in resignation rather than open them in hope.
He alone of all the great poets of his day remained undazzled by the
glitter of the Caesarian usurpation, and pined away in unavailing
despondency while beholding the subjugation of his country."

Propertius, the contemporary of Tibullus, born 51 B.C., was on the
contrary the most eager of all the flatterers of Augustus,--a man of wit
and pleasure, whose object of idolatry was Cynthia, a poetess and a
courtesan. He was an imitator of the Greeks, but had a great
contemporary fame. He showed much warmth of passion, but never soared
into the sublime heights of poetry, like his rival.

Such were among the great elegiac poets of Rome, who were generally
devoted to the delineation of the passion of love. The older English
poets resembled them in this respect, but none of them have risen to
such lofty heights as the later ones,--for instance, Wordsworth and
Tennyson. It is in lyric poetry that the moderns have chiefly excelled
the ancients, in variety, in elevation of sentiment, and in
imagination. The grandeur and originality of the ancients were displayed
rather in epic and dramatic poetry.

In satire the Romans transcended both the Greeks and the moderns. Satire
arose with Lucilius, 148 B.C., in the time of Marius, an age when
freedom of speech was tolerated. Horace was the first to gain
immortality in this department. Next Persius comes, born 34 A.D., the
friend of Lucian and Seneca in the time of Nero, who painted the vices
of his age as it was passing to that degradation which marked the reign
of Domitian, when Juvenal appeared. The latter, disdaining fear, boldly
set forth the abominations of the times, and struck without distinction
all who departed from duty and conscience. There is nothing in any
language which equals the fire, the intensity, and the bitterness of
Juvenal, not even the invectives of Swift and Pope. But he flourished
during the decline of literature, and had neither the taste nor the
elegance of the Augustan writers. He was born 60 A.D., the son of a
freedman, and was the contemporary of Martial. He was banished by
Domitian on account of a lampoon against a favorite dancer, but under
the reign of Nerva he returned to Rome, and the imperial tyranny was the
subject of his bitterest denunciation next to the degradation of public
morals. His great rival in satire was Horace, who laughed at follies;
but Juvenal, more austere, exaggerated and denounced them. His sarcasms
on women have never been equalled in severity, and we cannot but hope
that they were unjust. From an historical point of view, as a
delineation of the manners of his age, his satires are priceless, even
like the epigrams of Martial. This uncompromising poet, not pliant and
easy like Horace, animadverted like an incorruptible censor on the vices
which were undermining the moral health and preparing the way for
violence; on the hypocrisy of philosophers and the cruelty of tyrants;
on the frivolity of women and the debauchery of men. He discoursed on
the vanity of human wishes with the moral wisdom of Dr. Johnson, and
urged self-improvement like Socrates and Epictetus.

I might speak of other celebrated poets,--of Lucan, of Martial, of
Petronius; but I only wish to show that the great poets of antiquity,
both Greek and Roman, have never been surpassed in genius, in taste, and
in art, and that few were ever more honored in their lifetime by
appreciating admirers,--showing the advanced state of civilization which
was reached in those classic countries in everything pertaining to the
realm of thought and art.

The genius of the ancients was displayed in prose composition as well as
in poetry, although perfection was not so soon attained. The poets were
the great creators of the languages of antiquity. It was not until they
had produced their immortal works that the languages were sufficiently
softened and refined to admit of great beauty in prose. But prose
requires art as well as poetry. There is an artistic rhythm in the
writings of the classical authors--like those of Cicero, Herodotus, and
Thucydides--as marked as in the beautiful measure of Homer and Virgil.
Plato did not write poetry, but his prose is as "musical as Apollo's
lyre." Burke and Macaulay are as great artists in style as Tennyson
himself. And it is seldom that men, either in ancient or modern times,
have been distinguished for both kinds of composition, although
Voltaire, Schiller, Milton, Swift, and Scott are among the exceptions.
Cicero, the greatest prose writer of antiquity, produced in poetry only
a single inferior work, which was laughed at by his contemporaries.
Bacon, with all his affluence of thought, vigor of imagination, and
command of language, could not write poetry any easier than Pope could
write prose,--although it is asserted by some modern writers, of no
great reputation, that Bacon wrote Shakspeare's plays.

All sorts of prose compositions were carried to perfection by both
Greeks and Romans, in history, in criticism, in philosophy, in oratory,
in epistles.

The earliest great prose writer among the Greeks was Herodotus, 484
B.C., from which we may infer that History was the first form of prose
composition to attain development. But Herodotus was not born until
Aeschylus had gained a prize for tragedy, nor for more than two hundred
years after Simonides the lyric poet nourished, and probably five or six
hundred years after Homer sang his immortal epics; yet though two
thousand years and more have passed since he wrote, the style of this
great "Father of History" is admired by every critic, while his history
as a work of art is still a study and a marvel. It is difficult to
understand why no work in prose anterior to Herodotus is worthy of note,
since the Greeks had attained a high civilization two hundred years
before he appeared, and the language had reached a high point of
development under Homer for more than five hundred years. The History of
Herodotus was probably written in the decline of life, when his mind was
enriched with great attainments in all the varied learning of his age,
and when he had conversed with most of the celebrated men of the various
countries he had visited. It pertains chiefly to the wars of the Greeks
with the Persians; but in his frequent episodes, which do not impair the
unity of the work, he is led to speak of the manners and customs of the
Oriental nations. It was once the fashion to speak of Herodotus as a
credulous man, who embodied the most improbable though interesting
stories. But now it is believed that no historian was ever more
profound, conscientious, and careful; and all modern investigations
confirm his sagacity and impartiality. He was one of the most
accomplished men of antiquity, or of any age,--an enlightened and
curious traveller, a profound thinker; a man of universal knowledge,
familiar with the whole range of literature, art, and science in his
day; acquainted with all the great men of Greece and at the courts of
Asiatic princes; the friend of Sophocles, of Pericles, of Thucydides, of
Aspasia, of Socrates, of Damon, of Zeno, of Phidias, of Protagoras, of
Euripides, of Polygnotus, of Anaxagoras, of Xenophon, of Alcibiades, of
Lysias, of Aristophanes,--the most brilliant constellation of men of
genius who were ever found together within the walls of a Grecian
city,--respected and admired by these great lights, all of whom were
inferior to him in knowledge. Thus was he fitted for his task by travel,
by study, and by intercourse with the great, to say nothing of his
original genius. The greatest prose work which had yet appeared in
Greece was produced by Herodotus,--a prose epic, severe in taste,
perfect in unity, rich in moral wisdom, charming in style, religious in
spirit, grand in subject, without a coarse passage; simple, unaffected,
and beautiful, like the narratives of the Bible, amusing yet
instructive, easy to understand, yet extending to the utmost boundaries
of human research,--a model for all subsequent historians. So highly was
this historic composition valued by the Athenians when their city was at
the height of its splendor that they decreed to its author ten talents
(about twelve thousand dollars) for reciting it. He even went from city
to city, a sort of prose rhapsodist, or like a modern lecturer, reciting
his history,--an honored and extraordinary man, a sort of Humboldt,
having mastered everything. And he wrote, not for fame, but to
communicate the results of inquiries made to satisfy his craving for
knowledge, which he obtained by personal investigation at Dodona, at
Delphi, at Samos, at Athens, at Corinth, at Thebes, at Tyre; he even
travelled into Egypt, Scythia, Asia Minor, Palestine, Babylonia, Italy,
and the islands of the sea. His episode on Egypt is worth more, from an
historical point of view, than all things combined which have descended
to us from antiquity. Herodotus was the first to give dignity to
history; nor in truthfulness, candor, and impartiality has he ever been
surpassed. His very simplicity of style is a proof of his transcendent
art, even as it is the evidence of his severity of taste. The
translation of this great history by Rawlinson, with notes, is

To Thucydides, as an historian, the modern world also assigns a proud
pre-eminence. He was born 471 B.C., and lived twenty years in exile on
account of a military failure. He treated only of a short period, during
the Peloponnesian War; but the various facts connected with that great
event could be known only by the most minute and careful inquiries. He
devoted twenty-seven years to the composition of his narrative, and
weighed his evidence with the most scrupulous care. His style has not
the fascination of Herodotus, but it is more concise. In a single volume
Thucydides relates what could scarcely be compressed into eight volumes
of a modern history. As a work of art, of its kind it is unrivalled. In
his description of the plague of Athens this writer is as minute as he
is simple. He abounds with rich moral reflections, and has a keen
perception of human character. His pictures are striking and tragic. He
is vigorous and intense, and every word he uses has a meaning, but some
of his sentences are not always easily understood. One of the greatest
tributes which can be paid to him is the estimate of an able critic,
George Long, that we have a more exact history of a protracted and
eventful period by Thucydides than we have of any period in modern
history equally extended and eventful; and all this is compressed into
a volume.

Xenophon is the last of the trio of the Greek historians whose writings
are classic and inimitable. He was born probably about 444 B.C. He is
characterized by great simplicity and absence of affectation. His
"Anabasis," in which he describes the expedition of the younger Cyrus
and the retreat of the ten thousand Greeks, is his most famous book. But
his "Cyropaedia," in which the history of Cyrus is the subject, although
still used as a classic in colleges for the beauty of its style, has no
value as a history, since the author merely adopted the current stories
of his hero without sufficient investigation. Xenophon wrote a variety
of treatises and dialogues, but his "Memorabilia" of Socrates is the
most valuable. All antiquity and all modern writers unite in ascribing
to Xenophon great merit as a writer and great moral elevation as a man.

If we pass from the Greek to the Latin historians,--to those who were as
famous as the Greek, and whose merit has scarcely been transcended in
our modern times, if indeed it has been equalled,--the great names of
Sallust, of Caesar, of Livy, of Tacitus rise up before us, together with
a host of other names we have not room or disposition to present, since
we only aim to show that the ancients were at least our equals in this
great department of prose composition. The first great masters of the
Greek language in prose were the historians, so far as we can judge by
the writings that have descended to us, although it is probable that
the orators may have shaped the language before them, and given it
flexibility and refinement The first great prose writers of Rome were
the orators; nor was the Latin language fully developed and polished
until Cicero appeared. But we do not here write a history of the
language; we speak only of those who wrote immortal works in the various
departments of learning.

As Herodotus did not arise until the Greek language had been already
formed by the poets, so no great prose writer appeared among the Romans
for a considerable time after Plautus, Terence, Ennius, and Lucretius
flourished. The first great historian was Sallust, the contemporary of
Cicero, born 86 B.C., the year that Marius died. Q. Fabius Pictor, M.
Portius Cato, and L. Cal. Piso had already written works which are
mentioned with respect by Latin authors, but they were mere annalists or
antiquarians, like the chroniclers of the Middle Ages, and had no claim
as artists. Sallust made Thucydides his model, but fell below him in
genius and elevated sentiment. He was born a plebeian, and rose to
distinction by his talents, but was ejected from the senate for his
profligacy. Afterward he made a great fortune as praetor and governor of
Numidia, and lived in magnificence on the Quirinal,--one of the most
profligate of the literary men of antiquity. We possess but a small
portion of his works, but the fragments which have come down to us show
peculiar merit. He sought to penetrate the human heart, and to reveal
the secret motives which actuate the conduct of men. The style of
Sallust is brilliant, but his art is always apparent; he is clear and
lively, but rhetorical. Like Voltaire, who inaugurated modern history,
Sallust thought more of style than of accuracy as to facts. He was a
party man, and never soared beyond his party. He aped the moralist, but
exalted egoism and love of pleasure into proper springs of action, and
honored talent disconnected with virtue. Like Carlyle, Sallust exalted
_strong_ men, and _because_ they were strong. He was not comprehensive
like Cicero, or philosophical like Thucydides, although he affected
philosophy as he did morality. He was the first who deviated from the
strict narratives of events, and also introduced much rhetorical
declamation, which he puts into the mouths of his heroes. He wrote
for _eclat_.

Julius Caesar, born 100 or 102 B.C., as an historian ranks higher than
Sallust, and no Roman ever wrote purer Latin. Yet his historical works,
however great their merit, but feebly represent the transcendent genius
of the most august name of antiquity. He was mathematician, architect,
poet, philologist, orator, jurist, general, statesman, and imperator. In
eloquence he was second only to Cicero. The great value of Caesar's
history is in the sketches of the productions, the manners, the
customs, and the political conditions of Gaul, Britain, and Germany. His
observations on military science, on the operation of sieges and the
construction of bridges and military engines are valuable; but the
description of his military career is only a studied apology for his
crimes,--even as the bulletins of Napoleon were set forth to show his
victories in the most favorable light. Caesar's fame rests on his
victories and successes as a statesman rather than on his merits as an
historian,--even as Louis Napoleon will live in history for his deeds
rather than as the apologist of his great usurping prototype. Caesar's
"Commentaries" resemble the history of Herodotus more than any other
Latin production, at least in style; they are simple and unaffected,
precise and elegant, plain and without pretension.

The Augustan age which followed, though it produced a constellation of
poets who shed glory upon the throne before which they prostrated
themselves in abject homage, like the courtiers of Louis XIV., still was
unfavorable to prose composition,--to history as well as eloquence. Of
the historians of that age, Livy, born 59 B.C., is the only one whose
writings are known to us, in the shape of some fragments of his history.
He was a man of distinction at court, and had a great literary
reputation,--so great that a Spaniard travelled from Cadiz on purpose to
see him. Most of the great historians of the world have occupied places
of honor and rank, which were given to them not as prizes for literary
successes, but for the experience, knowledge, and culture which high
social position and ample means secure. Herodotus lived in courts;
Thucydides was a great general, as also was Xenophon; Caesar was the
first man of his times; Sallust was praetor and governor; Livy was tutor
to Claudius; Tacitus was praetor and consul; Eusebius was bishop and
favorite of Constantine; Ammianus was the friend of the Emperor Julian;
Gregory of Tours was one of the leading prelates of the West; Froissart
attended in person, as a man of rank, the military expeditions of his
day; Clarendon was Lord Chancellor; Burnet was a bishop and favorite of
William III.; Thiers and Guizot both were prime ministers; while Gibbon,
Hume, Robertson, Macaulay, Grote, Milman, Froude, Neander, Niebuhr,
Mueller, Dahlman, Buckle, Prescott, Irving, Bancroft, Motley, have all
been men of wealth or position. Nor do I remember a single illustrious
historian who has been poor and neglected.

The ancients regarded Livy as the greatest of historians,--an opinion
not indorsed by modern critics, on account of his inaccuracies. But his
narrative is always interesting, and his language pure. He did not sift
evidence like Grote, nor generalize like Gibbon; but like Voltaire and
Macaulay, he was an artist in style, and possessed undoubted genius. His
Annals are comprised in one hundred and forty-two books, extending from
the foundation of the city to the death of Drusus, 9 B.C., of which only
thirty-five have come down to us,--an impressive commentary on the
vandalism of the Middle Ages and the ignorance of the monks who could
not preserve so great a treasure. "His story flows in a calm, clear,
sparkling current, with every charm which simplicity and ease can give."
He delineates character with great clearness and power; his speeches are
noble rhetorical compositions; his sentences are rhythmical cadences.
Livy was not a critical historian like Herodotus, for he took his
materials second-hand, and was ignorant of geography, nor did he write
with the exalted ideal of Thucydides; but as a painter of beautiful
forms, which only a rich imagination could conjure, he is unrivalled in
the history of literature. Moreover, he was honest and sound in heart,
and was just and impartial in reference to those facts with which he was

In the estimation of modern critics the highest rank as an historian is
assigned to Tacitus, and it would indeed be difficult to find his
superior in any age or country. He was born 57 A.D., about forty-three
years after the death of Augustus. He belonged to the equestrian rank,
and was a man of consular dignity. He had every facility for literary
labors that leisure, wealth, friends, and social position could give,
and lived under a reign when truth might be told. The extant works of
this great writer are the "Life of Agricola," his father-in-law; his
"Annales," which begin with the death of Augustus, 14 A.D., and close
with the death of Nero, 68 A.D.; the "Historiae," which comprise the
period from the second consulate of Galba, 68 A.D., to the death of
Domitian; and a treatise on the Germans. His histories describe Rome in
the fulness of imperial glory, when the will of one man was the supreme
law of the empire. He also wrote of events that occurred when liberty
had fled, and the yoke of despotism was nearly insupportable. He
describes a period of great moral degradation, nor does he hesitate to
lift the veil of hypocrisy in which his generation had wrapped itself.
He fearlessly exposes the cruelties and iniquities of the early
emperors, and writes with judicial impartiality respecting all the great
characters he describes. No ancient writer shows greater moral dignity
and integrity of purpose than Tacitus. In point of artistic unity he is
superior to Livy and equal to Thucydides, whom he resembles in
conciseness of style. His distinguishing excellence as an historian is
his sagacity and impartiality. Nothing escapes his penetrating eye; and
he inflicts merited chastisement on the tyrants who revelled in the
prostrated liberties of his country, while he immortalizes those few who
were faithful to duty and conscience in a degenerate age. But the
writings of Tacitus were not so popular as those of Livy, since neither
princes nor people relished his intellectual independence and moral
elevation. He does not satisfy Dr. Arnold, who thinks he ought to have
been better versed in the history of the Jews, and who dislikes his
speeches because they were fictitious.

Neither the Latin nor Greek historians are admired by those dry critics
who seek to give to rare antiquarian matter a disproportionate
importance, and to make this matter as fixed and certain as the truths
of natural science. History can never be other than an approximation to
the truth, even when it relates to the events and characters of its own
age. History does not give positive, indisputable knowledge. We know
that Caesar was ambitious; but we do not know whether he was more or
less so than Pompey, nor do we know how far he was justified in his
usurpation. A great history must have other merits besides accuracy,
antiquarian research, and presentation of authorities and notes. It must
be a work of art; and art has reference to style and language, to
grouping of details and richness of illustration, to eloquence and
poetry and beauty. A dry history, however learned, will never be read;
it will only be consulted, like a law-book, or Mosheim's "Commentaries."
We require _life_ in history, and it is for their vividness that the
writings of Livy and Tacitus will be perpetuated. Voltaire and Schiller
have no great merit as historians in a technical sense, but the "Life of
Charles XII." and the "Thirty Years' War" are still classics. Neander
has written one of the most searching and recondite histories of modern
times; but it is too dry, too deficient in art, to be cherished, and may
pass away like the voluminous writings of Varro, the most learned of the
Romans. It is the _art_ which is immortal in a book,--not the knowledge,
nor even the thoughts. What keeps alive the "Provincial Letters" of
Pascal? It is the style, the irony, the elegance that characterize them.
The exquisite delineation of character, the moral wisdom, the purity and
force of language, the artistic arrangement, and the lively and
interesting narrative appealing to all minds, like the "Arabian Nights"
or Froissart's "Chronicles," are the elements which give immortality to
the classic authors. We will not let them perish, because they amuse and
interest and inspire us.

A remarkable example is that of Plutarch, who, although born a Greek and
writing in the Greek language, was a contemporary of Tacitus, lived long
in Rome, and was one of the "immortals" of the imperial age. A teacher
of philosophy during his early manhood, he spent his last years as
archon and priest of Apollo in his native town. His most famous work is
his "Parallel Lives" of forty-six historic Greeks and Romans, arranged
in pairs, depicted with marvellous art and all the fascination of
anecdote and social wit, while presenting such clear conceptions of
characters and careers, and the whole so restrained within the bounds of
good taste and harmonious proportion, as to have been even to this day
regarded as forming a model for the ideal biography.

But it is taking a narrow view of history to make all writers after the
same pattern, even as it would be bigoted to make all Christians belong
to the same sect. Some will be remarkable for style, others for
learning, and others again for moral and philosophical wisdom; some will
be minute, and others generalizing; some will dig out a multiplicity of
facts without apparent object, and others induce from those facts; some
will make essays, and others chronicles. We have need of all styles and
all kinds of excellence. A great and original thinker may not have the
time or opportunity or taste for a minute and searching criticism of
original authorities; but he may be able to generalize previously
established facts so as to draw most valuable moral instruction from
them for the benefit of his readers. History is a boundless field of
inquiry; no man can master it in all its departments and periods. It
will not do to lay great emphasis on minute details, and neglect the art
of generalization. If an historian attempts to embody too much learning,
he is likely to be deficient in originality; if he would say everything,
he is apt to be dry; if he elaborates too much, he loses animation.
Moreover, different classes of readers require different kinds and
styles of histories; there must be histories for students, histories for
old men, histories for young men, histories to amuse, and histories to
instruct. If all men were to write history according to Dr. Arnold's
views, we should have histories of interest only to classical scholars.
The ancient historians never quoted their sources of knowledge, but were
valued for their richness of thoughts and artistic beauty of style. The
ages in which they flourished attached no value to pedantic displays of
learning paraded in foot-notes.

Thus the great historians whom I have mentioned, both Greek and Latin,
have few equals and no superiors in our own times in those things that
are most to be admired. They were not pedants, but men of immense genius
and genuine learning, who blended the profoundest principles of moral
wisdom with the most fascinating narrative,--men universally popular
among learned and unlearned, great artists in style, and masters of the
language in which they wrote.

Rome can boast of no great historian after Tacitus, who should have
belonged to the Ciceronian epoch. Suetonius, born about the year 70
A.D., shortly after Nero's death, was rather a biographer than an
historian; nor as a biographer does he take a high rank. His "Lives of
the Caesars," like Diogenes Laertius's "Lives of the Philosophers," are
rather anecdotical than historical. L. Anneus Florus, who flourished
during the reign of Trajan, has left a series of sketches of the
different wars from the days of Romulus to those of Augustus. Frontinus
epitomized the large histories of Pompeius. Ammianus Marcellinus wrote a
history from Nerva to Valens, and is often quoted by Gibbon. But none
wrote who should be adduced as examples of the triumph of genius, except
Sallust, Caesar, Livy, Plutarch, and Tacitus.

* * * * *

There is another field of prose composition in which the Greeks and
Romans gained great distinction, and proved themselves equal to any
nation of modern times,--that of eloquence. It is true, we have not a
rich collection of ancient speeches; but we have every reason to believe
that both Greeks and Romans were most severely trained in the art of
public speaking, and that forensic eloquence was highly prized and
munificently rewarded. It began with democratic institutions, and
flourished as long as the People were a great power in the State; it
declined whenever and wherever tyrants bore rule. Eloquence and liberty
flourish together; nor can there be eloquence where there is not freedom
of debate. In the fifth century before Christ--the first century of
democracy--great orators arose, for without the power and the
opportunity of defending himself against accusation no man could hold an
ascendent position. Socrates insisted upon the gift of oratory for a
general in the army as well as for a leader in political life. In Athens
the courts of justice were numerous, and those who could not defend
themselves were obliged to secure the services of those who were trained
in the use of public speaking. Thus arose the lawyers, among whom
eloquence was more in demand and more richly paid than in any other
class. Rhetoric became connected with dialectics, and in Greece, Sicily,
and Italy both were extensively cultivated. Empedocles was distinguished
as much for rhetoric as for philosophy. It was not, however, in the
courts of law that eloquence displayed the greatest fire and passion,
but in political assemblies. These could only coexist with liberty; for
a democracy is more favorable than an aristocracy to large assemblies of
citizens. In the Grecian republics eloquence as an art may be said to
have been born. It was nursed and fed by political agitation, by the
strife of parties. It arose from appeals to the people as a source of
power: when the people were not cultivated, it addressed chiefly
popular passions and prejudices; when they were enlightened, it
addressed interests.

It was in Athens, where there existed the purest form of democratic
institutions, that eloquence rose to the loftiest heights in the ancient
world, so far as eloquence appeals to popular passions. Pericles, the
greatest statesman of Greece, 495 B.C., was celebrated for his
eloquence, although no specimens remain to us. It was conceded by the
ancient authors that his oratory was of the highest kind, and the
epithet of "Olympian" was given him, as carrying the weapons of Zeus
upon his tongue. His voice was sweet, and his utterance distinct and
rapid. Peisistratus was also famous for his eloquence, although he was a
usurper and a tyrant. Isocrates, 436 B.C., was a professed rhetorician,
and endeavored to base his art upon sound moral principles, and rescue
it from the influence of the Sophists. He was the great teacher of the
most eminent statesmen of his day. Twenty-one of his orations have come
down to us, and they are excessively polished and elaborated; but they
were written to be read, they were not extemporary. His language is the
purest and most refined Attic dialect. Lysias, 458 B.C., was a fertile
writer of orations also, and he is reputed to have produced as many as
four hundred and twenty-five; of these only thirty-five are extant.
They are characterized by peculiar gracefulness and elegance, which did
not interfere with strength. So able were these orations that only two
were unsuccessful. They were so pure that they were regarded as the best
canon of the Attic idiom.

But all the orators of Greece--and Greece was the land of orators--gave
way to Demosthenes, born 385 B.C. He received a good education, and is
said to have been instructed in philosophy by Plato and in eloquence by
Isocrates; but it is more probable that he privately prepared himself
for his brilliant career. As soon as he attained his majority, he
brought suits against the men whom his father had appointed his
guardians, for their waste of property, and after two years was
successful, conducting the prosecution himself. It was not until the age
of thirty that he appeared as a speaker in the public assembly on
political matters, where he rapidly attained universal respect, and
became one of the leading statesmen of Athens. Henceforth he took an
active part in every question that concerned the State. He especially
distinguished himself in his speeches against Macedonian
aggrandizements, and his Philippics are perhaps the most brilliant of
his orations. But the cause which he advocated was unfortunate; the
battle of Cheronaea, 338 B.C., put an end to the independence of Greece,
and Philip of Macedon was all-powerful. For this catastrophe
Demosthenes was somewhat responsible, but as his motives were conceded
to be pure and his patriotism lofty, he retained the confidence of his
countrymen. Accused by Aeschines, he delivered his famous Oration on the
Crown. Afterward, during the supremacy of Alexander, Demosthenes was
again accused, and suffered exile. Recalled from exile on the death of
Alexander, he roused himself for the deliverance of Greece, without
success; and hunted by his enemies he took poison in the sixty-third
year of his age, having vainly contended for the freedom of his
country,---one of the noblest spirits of antiquity, and lofty in his
private life.

As an orator Demosthenes has not probably been equalled by any man of
any country. By his contemporaries he was regarded as faultless in this
respect; and when it is remembered that he struggled against physical
difficulties which in the early part of his career would have utterly
discouraged any ordinary man, we feel that he deserves the highest
commendation. He never spoke without preparation, and most of his
orations were severely elaborated. He never trusted to the impulse of
the occasion; he did not believe in extemporary eloquence any more than
Daniel Webster, who said there is no such thing. All the orations of
Demosthenes exhibit him as a pure and noble patriot, and are full of the
loftiest sentiments. He was a great artist, and his oratorical
successes were greatly owing to the arrangement of his speeches and the
application of the strongest arguments in their proper places. Added to
this moral and intellectual superiority was the "magic power of his
language, majestic and simple at the same time, rich yet not bombastic,
strange and yet familiar, solemn and not too ornate, grave and yet
pleasing, concise and yet fluent, sweet and yet impressive, which
altogether carried away the minds of his hearers." His orations were
most highly prized by the ancients, who wrote innumerable commentaries
on them, most of which are lost. Sixty of the great productions of his
genius have come down to us.

Demosthenes, like other orators, first became known as the composer of
speeches for litigants; but his fame was based on the orations he
pronounced in great political emergencies. His rival was Aeschines, who
was vastly inferior to Demosthenes, although bold, vigorous, and
brilliant. Indeed, the opinions of mankind for two thousand years have
been unanimous in ascribing to Demosthenes the highest position as an
orator among all the men of ancient and modern times. David Hume says of
him that "could his manner be copied, its success would be infallible
over a modern audience." Says Lord Brougham, "It is rapid harmony
exactly adjusted to the sense. It is vehement reasoning, without any
appearance of art. It is disdain, anger, boldness, freedom involved in a
continual stream of argument; so that of all human productions his
orations present to us the models which approach the nearest to

It is probable that the Romans were behind the Athenians in all the arts
of rhetoric; yet in the days of the republic celebrated orators arose
among the lawyers and politicians. It was in forensic eloquence that
Latin prose first appeared as a cultivated language; for the forum was
to the Romans what libraries are to us. The art of public speaking in
Rome was early developed. Cato, Laelius, Carbo, and the Gracchi are said
to have been majestic and harmonious in speech, yet excelled by
Antonius, Crassus, Cotta, Sulpitius, and Hortensius. The last had a very
brilliant career as an orator, though his orations were too florid to be
read. Caesar was also distinguished for his eloquence, its
characteristics being force and purity. "Coelius was noted for lofty
sentiment, Brutus for philosophical wisdom, Calidius for a delicate and
harmonious style, and Calvus for sententious force."

But all the Roman orators yielded to Cicero, as the Greeks did to
Demosthenes. These two men are always coupled together when allusion is
made to eloquence. They were pre-eminent in the ancient world, and have
never been equalled in the modern.

Cicero, 106 B.C., was probably not equal to his great Grecian rival in
vehemence, in force, in fiery argument which swept everything away
before him, nor generally in original genius; but he was his superior in
learning, in culture, and in breadth. Cicero distinguished himself very
early as an advocate, but his first great public effort was made in the
prosecution of Verres for corruption. Although Verres was defended by
Hortensius and backed by the whole influence of the Metelli and other
powerful families, Cicero gained his cause,--more fortunate than Burke
in his prosecution of Warren Hastings, who also was sustained by
powerful interests and families. The speech on the Manilian Law, when
Cicero appeared as a political orator, greatly contributed to his
popularity. I need not describe his memorable career,--his successive
elections to all the highest offices of state, his detection of
Catiline's conspiracy, his opposition to turbulent and ambitious
partisans, his alienations and friendships, his brilliant career as a
statesman, his misfortunes and sorrows, his exile and recall, his
splendid services to the State, his greatness and his defects, his
virtues and weaknesses, his triumphs and martyrdom. These are foreign to
my purpose. No man of heathen antiquity is better known to us, and no
man by pure genius ever won more glorious laurels. His life and labors
are immortal. His virtues and services are embalmed in the heart of the
world. Few men ever performed greater literary labors, and in so many of
its departments. Next to Aristotle and Varro, Cicero was the most
learned man of antiquity, but performed more varied labors than either,
since he was not only great as a writer and speaker, but also as a
statesman, being the most conspicuous man in Rome after Pompey and
Caesar. He may not have had the moral greatness of Socrates, nor the
philosophical genius of Plato, nor the overpowering eloquence of
Demosthenes, but he was a master of all the wisdom of antiquity. Even
civil law, the great science of the Romans, became interesting in his
hands, and was divested of its dryness and technicality. He popularized
history, and paid honor to all art, even to the stage; he made the
Romans conversant with the philosophy of Greece, and systematized the
various speculations. He may not have added to philosophy, but no Roman
after him understood so well the practical bearing of all its various
systems. His glory is purely intellectual, and it was by sheer genius
that he rose to his exalted position and influence.

But it was in forensic eloquence that Cicero was pre-eminent, in which
he had but one equal in ancient times. Roman eloquence culminated in
him. He composed about eighty orations, of which fifty-nine are
preserved. Some were delivered from the rostrum to the people, and some
in the senate; some were mere philippics, as severe in denunciation as
those of Demosthenes; some were laudatory; some were judicial; but all
were severely logical, full of historical allusion, profound in
philosophical wisdom, and pervaded with the spirit of patriotism.
Francis W. Newman, in his "Regal Rome," thus describes Cicero's

"He goes round and round his object, surveys it in every light, examines
it in all its parts, retires and then advances, compares and contrasts
it, illustrates, confirms, and enforces it, till the hearer feels
ashamed of doubting a position which seems built on a foundation so
strictly argumentative. And having established his case, he opens upon
his opponent a discharge of raillery so delicate and good-natured that
it is impossible for the latter to maintain his ground against it; or,
when the subject is too grave, he colors his exaggerations with all the
bitterness of irony and vehemence of passion."

Critics have uniformly admired Cicero's style as peculiarly suited to
the Latin language, which, being scanty and unmusical, requires more
redundancy than the Greek. The simplicity of the Attic writers would
make Latin composition bald and tame. To be perspicuous, the Latin must
be full. Thus Arnold thinks that what Tacitus gained in energy he lost
in elegance and perspicuity. But Cicero, dealing with a barren and
unphilosophical language, enriched it with circumlocutions and
metaphors, while he freed it of harsh and uncouth expressions, and thus
became the greatest master of composition the world has seen. He was a
great artist, making use of his scanty materials to the best effect; he
had absolute control over the resources of his vernacular tongue, and
not only unrivalled skill in composition, but tact and judgment. Thus he
was generally successful, in spite of the venality and corruption of the
times. The courts of justice were the scenes of his earliest triumphs;
nor until he was praetor did he speak from the rostrum on mere political
questions, as in reference to the Manilian and Agrarian laws. It is in
his political discourses that Cicero rises to the highest ranks. In his
speeches against Verres, Catiline, and Antony he kindles in his
countrymen lofty feelings for the honor of his country, and abhorrence
of tyranny and corruption. Indeed, he hated bloodshed, injustice, and
strife, and beheld the downfall of liberty with indescribable sorrow.

Thus in oratory as in history the ancients can boast of most illustrious
examples, never even equalled. Still, we cannot tell the comparative
merits of the great classical orators of antiquity with the more
distinguished of our times; indeed only Mirabeau, Pitt, Fox, Burke,
Brougham, Webster, and Clay can even be compared with them. In power of
moving the people, some of our modern reformers and agitators may be
mentioned favorably; but their harangues are comparatively tame
when read.

In philosophy the Greeks and Romans distinguished themselves more even
than in poetry, or history, or eloquence. Their speculations pertained
to the loftiest subjects that ever tasked the intellect of man. But this
great department has already been presented. There were respectable
writers in various other departments of literature, but no very great
names whose writings have descended to us. Contemporaries had an exalted
opinion of Varro, who was considered the most learned of the Romans, as
well as their most voluminous author. He was born ten years before
Cicero, and is highly commended by Augustine. He was entirely devoted to
literature, took no interest in passing events, and lived to a good old
age. Saint Augustine says of him that "he wrote so much that one wonders
how he had time to read; and he read so much, we are astonished how he
found time to write." He composed four hundred and ninety books. Of
these only one has descended to us entire,--"De Re Rustica," written at
the age of eighty; but it is the best treatise which has come down from
antiquity on ancient agriculture. We have parts of his other books, and
we know of still others that have entirely perished which for their
information would be invaluable, especially his "Divine Antiquities," in
sixteen books,--his great work, from which Saint Augustine drew
materials for his "City of God." Varro wrote treatises on language, on
the poets, on philosophy, on geography, and on various other subjects;
he also wrote satire and criticism. But although his writings were
learned, his style was so bad that the ages have failed to preserve him.
The truly immortal books are most valued for their artistic excellences.
No man, however great his genius, can afford to be dull. Style is to
written composition what delivery is to a public speaker. The multitude
do not go to hear the man of thoughts, but to hear the man of words,
being repelled or attracted by _manner_.

Seneca was another great writer among the Romans, but he belongs to the
domain of philosophy, although it is his ethical works which have given
him immortality,--as may be truly said of Socrates and Epictetus,
although they are usually classed among the philosophers. Seneca was a
Spaniard, born but a few years before the Christian era; he was a lawyer
and a rhetorician, also a teacher and minister of Nero. It was his
misfortune to know one of the most detestable princes that ever
scandalized humanity, and it is not to his credit to have accumulated in
four years one of the largest fortunes in Rome while serving such a
master; but since he lived to experience Nero's ingratitude, Seneca is
more commonly regarded as a martyr. Had he lived in the republican
period, he would have been a great orator. He wrote voluminously, on
many subjects, and was devoted to a literary life. He rejected the
superstitions of his country, and looked upon the ritualism of religion
as a mere fashion. In his own belief he was a deist; but though he wrote
fine ethical treatises, he dishonored his own virtues by a compliance
with the vices of others. He saw much of life, and died at fifty-three.
What is remarkable in Seneca's writings, which are clear but labored, is
that under Pagan influences and imperial tyranny he should have
presented such lofty moral truth; and it is a mark of almost
transcendent talent that he should, unaided by Christianity, have soared
so high in the realm of ethical inquiry. Nor is it easy to find any
modern author who has treated great questions in so attractive a way.

Quintilian is a Latin classic, and belongs to the class of rhetoricians.
He should have been mentioned among the orators, yet, like Lysias the
Greek, Quintilian was a teacher of eloquence rather than an orator. He
was born 40 A.D., and taught the younger Pliny, also two nephews of
Domitian, receiving a regular salary from the imperial treasury. His
great work is a complete system of rhetoric. "Institutiones Oratoriae"
is one of the clearest and fullest of all rhetorical manuals ever
written in any language, although, as a literary production, it is
inferior to the "De Oratore" of Cicero. It is very practical and
sensible, and a complete compendium of every topic likely to be useful
in the education of an aspirant for the honors of eloquence. In
systematic arrangement it falls short of a similar work by Aristotle;
but it is celebrated for its sound judgment and keen discrimination,
showing great reading and reflection. Quintilian should be viewed as a
critic rather than as a rhetorician, since he entered into the merits
and defects of the great masters of Greek and Roman literature. In his
peculiar province he has had no superior. Like Cicero or Demosthenes or
Plato or Thucydides or Tacitus, Quintilian would be a great man if he
lived in our times, and could proudly challenge the modern world to
produce a better teacher than he in the art of public speaking.

There were other classical writers of immense fame, but they do not
represent any particular class in the field of literature which can be
compared with the modern. I can only draw attention to Lucian,--a witty
and voluminous Greek author, who lived in the reign of Commodus, and who
wrote rhetorical, critical, and biographical works, and even romances
which have given hints to modern authors. His fame rests on his
"Dialogues," intended to ridicule the heathen philosophy and religion,
and which show him to have been one of the great masters of ancient
satire and mockery. His style of dialogue--a combination of Plato and
Aristophanes--is not much used by modern writers, and his peculiar kind
of ridicule is reserved now for the stage. Yet he cannot be called a
writer of comedy, like Moliere. He resembles Rabelais and Swift more
than any other modern writers, having their indignant wit, indecent
jokes, and pungent sarcasms. Like Juvenal, Lucian paints the vices and
follies of his time, and exposes the hypocrisy that reigns in the high
places of fashion and power. His dialogues have been imitated by
Fontanelle and Lord Lyttleton, but these authors do not possess his
humor or pungency. Lucian does not grapple with great truths, but
contents himself with ridiculing those who have proclaimed them, and in
his cold cynicism depreciates human knowledge and all the great moral
teachers of mankind. He is even shallow and flippant upon Socrates; but
he was well read in human nature, and superficially acquainted with all
the learning of antiquity. In wit and sarcasm he may be compared with
Voltaire, and his object was the same,--to demolish and pull down
without substituting anything instead. His scepticism was universal, and
extended to religion, to philosophy, and to everything venerated and
ancient. His purity of style was admired by Erasmus, and his works have
been translated into most European languages. In strong contrast to the
"Dialogues" of Lucian is the "City of God" by Saint Augustine, in which
he demolishes with keener ridicule all the gods of antiquity, but
substitutes instead the knowledge of the true God.

Thus the Romans, as well as Greeks, produced works in all departments of
literature that will bear comparison with the masterpieces of modern
times. And where would have been the literature of the early Church, or
of the age of the Reformation, or of modern nations, had not the great
original writers of Athens and Rome been our school-masters? When we
further remember that their glorious literature was created by native
genius, without the aid of Christianity, we are filled with amazement,
and may almost be excused if we deify the reason of man. Nor, indeed,
have greater triumphs of intellect been witnessed in these our Christian
times than are produced among that class which is the least influenced
by Christian ideas. Some of the proudest trophies of genius have been
won by infidels, or by men stigmatized as such. Witness Voltaire,
Rousseau, Diderot, Hegel, Fichte, Gibbon, Hume, Buckle. May there not be
the greatest practical infidelity with the most artistic beauty and
native reach of thought? Milton ascribes the most sublime intelligence
to Satan and his angels on the point of rebellion against the majesty
of Heaven. A great genius may be kindled even by the fires of
discontent and ambition, which may quicken the intellectual faculties
while consuming the soul, and spread their devastating influence on the
homes and hopes of man.

Since, then, we are assured that literature as well as art may flourish
under Pagan influences, it seems certain that Christianity has a higher
mission than the culture of the mind. Religious scepticism cannot be
disarmed if we appeal to Christianity as the test of intellectual
culture. The realm of reason has no fairer fields than those that are
adorned by Pagan achievements.

* * * * *


There are no better authorities than the classical authors themselves,
and their works must be studied in order to comprehend the spirit of
ancient literature. Modern historians of Roman literature are merely
critics, like Dalhmann, Schlegel, Niebuhr, Muller, Mommsen, Mure,
Arnold, Dunlap, and Thompson. Nor do I know of an exhaustive history of
Roman literature in the English language; yet nearly every great writer
has occasional criticisms upon the subject which are entitled to
respect. The Germans, in this department, have no equals.

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